Studying abroad is an experience that I will never regret and I am so glad that I was able to travel to a foreign country before graduating. This past winter break, I participated in the Lorenzo de Medici Winter in Florence, Italy. These 3 weeks in Italy have been nothing short of amazing. This whole trip has been pretty surreal.
Education abroad was very different there compared to the United States. I have taken graphic design classes here at Binghamton University, but they did not compare to my class in Italy. My professor was great and the class was about 9 students from other U.S. colleges. My professor thoroughly explained each lesson twice before he gave us our projects for the day. I loved that we were given a new project each day because it kept learning fresh and fun. The most rewarding part of my education abroad experience was being able to create a portfolio with the projects I had completed during the Winter Session. It was fun to look back on all the projects I had created as well as my peers’.
I would encourage everyone to study abroad, even if it’s not to Lorenzo de Medici Winter program in Florence, Italy. Studying abroad in a foreign country really gives you a fresh look on life firsthand. You are able to observe and experience how people live in other countries. It is really an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to travel with other students who have similar interests as you and are also there to have a great time. Furthermore, I loved traveling to other Italian cities on the weekends because I got to see huge cultural landmarks such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Colosseum.
Culture shock wasn’t not really a big thing for me as I was only in Italy for 3 weeks. If you plan to stay longer, you are more likely to get culture shock. My advice would be to make as many friends in the program to travel around with. Additionally, make time to talk to friends back home and do some of favorite hobbies such as binge watching shows or just listening to music.
Top Ten Things You Should Know Before Studying Abroad in Italy
- Best Exchange Rate: There are many banks around and they are also many exchange stores. Make sure you are getting the best exchange for your U.S. dollar.
- Phone Plan: It is best to just get a sim card with data than an international plan. Many stores and restaurants have accessible Wi-Fi, which is great if you use iMessage or WhatsApp
- Pickpocketers: Florence is relatively safe. However, it is always better to be safe than sorry. It is best to wear fanny-packs because you can always see it in front of you. If you wear a bookbag, make sure your zippers are zipped down to one side. Just stay aware of your surroundings.
- Language barrier: If you don’t know the Italian language, you can normally still get by. It is best to know the basics such as hi, bye, thank you, excuse me, stop, good and do you speak English? Also, you can use language apps such as google translate to help you.
- Food/ Restaurant/ Supermarkets: Food is a true obsession in Italian. They take pride in the quality of their food. Pasta, pizza and steak are some of the most popular foods in Italy. Don’t forget to also try gelato, a popular dessert. The restaurant culture is different compared to the United States. In Italy, waiters are a little less attentive because eating for Italians is more of an experience. They like to take their time eating enjoying their companion’s company even after eating. Furthermore, the portion sizes are much smaller. In the United States, most people finish eating quickly and immediately want the check. Additionally, most Italian restaurants include Coperto, a cover charge. This is similar to a tip. Unlike America, you have to pay for getting water in Italian restaurants. Water is so much more expensive there. Lastly, there is less of a stigma about underage drinking. In the occasion that you may go to a supermarket for groceries, bring a durable bag to hold your groceries because they charge you for the grocery bags.
- Style: From grandmas to even the puppies, Italians take such pride in their looks. Although most Americans may dress for comfort, Italians on the other hand mostly dress in designer brands. Zara is popular store for women and men in Florence. During the winter, most of their store/boutiques (including Zara) have sales. There are also markets throughout the city, where you can bargain prices with the sellers for a good bargain. If you love shopping, don’t forget to bring some extra money.
- Transportation: Italian culture is very slow paced compared to America. Cars are not very popular. Every city is very walk-able so make sure to bring comfortable shoes to walk in. While most Italians walk, they’re are still many that ride vespas and take the bus. There is also a dependable train system similar to our Amtrak that helps transport people to different cities within Italy, if you want to plan a trip.
- Garage: If you have the pleasure in staying in a home while studying abroad, you will quickly realize how environmentally friendly Italy is. You have to take your trash out to the dumps on the street and be sure to separate food scraps from paper and plastic.
- Adapter: Don’t forget to bring an adapter. You can normally get a good cheap one from Amazon.
- For women*: When traveling outside of Florence to places like Rome or Venice, there may be guys that compliment you and try to give you a rose. After you take the rose, they will keep asking you for money so it is best to respectfully decline.
Shanice Greenidge, a Political Science major, studied at Lorenzo de Medici Winter in Florence, Italy during winter 2019.